The Elvis Costello Tenor Guitar
I recently discovered a clip on YouTube that has got me hook, line and sinker wanting to explore the world of tenor guitars – something I’m not sure I was even aware of until seeing this piece. Now it doesn’t hurt that the artist in question is one of my all-time favourites – Elvis Costello – and that the song – Delivery Man – is also one dear to my heart, but I had no idea that it was being played on such a unique instrument (I don’t think the original album recording uses the tenor but I’m not certain).
As I did when I first saw Paul McCartney using a cigar box guitar, I just had to find out more about this instrument. It turns out the one in the clip is a pretty special one – a one-off 1958 Gretsch Tenor Chet Atkins 6120 that Costello purchased from Gruhn Guitars (it’s a model they haven’t seen before or since). There are a couple of other links that have turned up some interesting Gretsch tenors via Vintage Guitar magazine and the well named Vintage Tenor Guitars website.
But what is a tenor? The basics are that it’s a 4 string instrument with a scale length of around 22 inches. Tuning is generally like a tenor banjo (CGDA) but you can use quite a few different options either tuned in 5ths or as open tunings. Apparently it’s the CGDA tuning that gives it quite a unique sound, but that makes it difficult for trying out unless you have got a tenor – it’s tough to find a guitar string that will tune to the C over the longer scale length. As always, lots more information on the Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tenor_guitar).
I’m tempted to make a tenor my next instrument build as I could do something similar to the 4-string cigar box guitar I made recently for a friend. If the idea moves beyond just being an idea I’ll detail it here, but in the meantime enjoy the great Costello clip!